Jeremiah Watt Cycling around God's Creation

long distance bicycle touring

Posts tagged ‘pais basque’

Blog42- rest in Bilbao

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Not really that I needed a rest in Bilbao, its just the way that things worked out as I traveled and there are a few other things going on from a business standpoint that need my attention. So, its a bit of a rest day in Bilbao, actually 2 to be exact. But no matter, its a great city to visit, and also the largest city within the Pais Basque autonoumous region.

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I have learned alot about the whole Basque region since arriving here, and had a sense something was different even before I met my very kind Basque guides. We met, Urko and sister Urizio, in a rather strange manner and I have some friends to thank for helping me pull this off. A year ago, I taught a saddletree making class over in France, as mentjoned before. One of the very capable students was a leather worker by the name of Fred Javelot, talented fellow indeed and amiable sidekick of George and Natalie Brail. I was in need of having a package sent by Fed-Ex to Bilbao……but didn’t know a soul in that city or area……Fred came to my rescue and many thanks for that help. Back to my new Basque friends and our evening social event…….a most common occurrence in Bilbao. So common matter of fact, it has been given an official name or title within Bilbao, Basque country. Bar hopping as we may say in USA, here is called ” ir de pinxtos” and a group of Basque friends is known as a “quadrilla”.

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Bilbao, dates back to very late 1390. The first moorings of a harbor and the first foundations of homes were laid by the venerable Don Diego de Lopez de Haro. Captured in his likeness in bust form in a central city park. The lineage of the Haro family was and still is active within the Basque region, which by the way, they are far prouder to be seen as Basque than having anything to do with Spain. The tiny Basque region of Spain, is a true AUTONOMOUS region, having its own police, its own government, and all level and rates of taxation. It, the Basque region, accounts for approximately 42%of the revenue generated in the entire country of Spain. And yet, to be understood fully for its magnitude, Basque region amounts to only 7.25% of Spains size. Basques can be accused of taking education , work and thier heritage very seriously. As a people group, they excell at and in, all three mentioned attributes. With more Univefsity educated citizens per capita than all be 2 other countries in Europe. An unemployment scene that sits around 10% for the Basque region, while national stat,s for Spain look like about 32% if you average a few different articles written about the subject. And to cap it all off, no matter who has the best coast, nor largest region……we are Basque and darned proud of it.

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The Basque language, said to be the oldest language in ALL OF EUROPE. How that was arrived at, I have no idea, but that is the opinion of many who study such things…….in America, ae would call tnat person a “brick layer” I think. Whether or not its the oldest is of no real matter nor importance. What I have concluded is that without a 4 year University degree, I dont think you could even spell a quarter of the words in thier language. God God, but the Basques do use up an alphabet in a hurry when it comes to the spelling of a word. Its my own theory, that the “click-click bush people” of the Khalahari, are really frustrated Basques who moved out and south……..thier tongues simply could not wrap around that sound made by an EXZT all together.

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One more tidbit……notice pleaze how I will now smoothly segway into a “FOOD” subject by opening with a typical eating phrase…..pretty cool for a guy raised in the northern Ontario bush. Anyways, if ever you happen onto a Michelin European travellers map, whose sole purpose is of course to sell tires…..you will notice that a Basque city, that being San Sebastion. Has more GASTONOMY stars to its credit that ANY other city within Europe……..lucky for these guys that Coon Rapids lays outside this same region. To say that the Basques love thier food is indeed a true understatment. They spend on average, twice as much disposable income on food stuffs as Americans do. Of course, we walk away with a bad……lets make that terrible impersonation of a Baguette cooked in a convestion oven……..Nd smile when we eat it……….all because do so saved us enough money to buy that new 9mm Berretta. Ha h! Sooner have the pistol anyways. In all seriousness folks, food in the Basque region is superb, and these folks sit for hours late in the evening enjoying it.

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Two days basically, is what I had to walk, talk, and enjoy the riverside city of Balbao. And enjoy I did! How can you visit Bilbao and not taken in the world renouned Guggenhiem Museo. Avant guarde, ecclectic, masterful, a housing of modern, abrstract art…….more bent metal available in one place than the Sanford and Sons  movie set…….more paint that has been sprayed, dribbled and generally thrown by the pail full at unexpecting canvas….than at a summer camp or disturbed teens. My real question after taking it all in for 6 hours, why the hell would you go to the Museo. I love art folks, but sorry, just cant find a place in my heart for items materialistic items without a soul. That is what abstract is, souless works. They are classically defined by the “nose in the air” educati as being pieces you have to learn to love…….whixh to me sounds oddly like eating Snails.

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From and after the Museo, I began a walk in earnest all around the city. Its new areas, its old central city core, seen the latest in modern undertakings at reviving  regions within an otherwise very vibrant city. Biased  am I about things of beauty and artisitc skills,……YES, I am, I took in every Cathedral in the city, sat thru a mass in one, and took more pictures that one man should be able to take in that time. And yes, to answer your question…..2 of those pictures came out pretty good. I think I have samples product from roughly 20 plus bakeries in Bilbao. Ate hand made sausage, hand made olives, quince jam, non-pasturized milk cheese…….oh my God dont tell my friend Gloria A………but yes, I survived and loved it.

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FACT 1 – we really donT have ham in USA. You will never be able to know “how right” I am till you have eaten ham here and in Italy. Sorry, its just a fact. The Basqjes take ham “jambon” very seriously. Have to since may epicurians agree, they re kmown for the best ham in the world. Here, they have what locals call “pata negro, hope I got that right. Its known as Iberico Jambon, and is made from ONLY, the hind legs of course of a special breed of black pig. The pigs are raised outside, in heards like cattle, they are fed a ration of Oak Acorns that hVe been collected Nd softened in boiling water. This produces a pig with considerable fat content, and more specifically a distinct taste. The hams are hung to dry and cure with very little salt. Once dried, approx 6 months time, they are brought to market and sold wgole to a family or by the slice. When jambon is sliced here, its not by some kid who slaps in on the delli food slicer…..oh no no. The hams are placed in a jamoneta, a golding fixture if you will, then a skilled meat slicer takes up a large thin bladed knife and proceeds to slice of slices so thin as to see thru them. Families do much the same with a whole ham at home. Its kept on the counter not in the fridge, placed under a heavy towel, and sliced as needed till finished. A properly cured ham at home is good a for a month no problem.

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I fear this is me if I am on the bike much longer!!!!

FACT 2-we dont really have cheese at home in USA. Lets face it, if cheese manufacturers would simply place a string thru the middle of every block of cheese….we could double sales. It can be eaten inwhich case it tastes like wax, but comes in 2 colors, beimg white or yellow. Or we could simply use that block of cheeses as a candle when the power goes out. Yeah, I know, pretty rough……sorry you true cheese makers. But in comparison to cheese nere, its really close to the rruth. The Basques, known as SHEEP MEN, have earned a place in American history as being the best shepards in the world. Here, the cheeses most common are drier that many of the French cheeses, and for the most part are made from the milk of sheep…..and tbe best from non pasturized milk and bought locally.

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WARNING – to my many European friends, this will land upon your timpanic membranes with a thud…….you will catch yourself saying ” what the heck did he just say”. In a large way, you are losing you bread culture over here. Read carefully pleaxe before you cast that first stone..its the curse of those damnable convection ovens. They should all be stored in Davey Jones’s Locker……JMO. For myself, it is profound over a 10 year period of time the difference in breads at the bakery, witnessed by myself from first trip over till today. Here in Bilbao, I have only found 3 bakers using a stone oven, all the rest are convection. France was for the most part the same. If you are buying bread in a large city or large Super Market it is most likley done in a modern convection oven. I have found that in may small villages and towns, the baker still uses a stone oven heated by wood fire. The difference is marked in crust quality and carmelization, not to mention interior moisture and texture. These attributes are the essence of bread……..loose those, and there is no good reason to return to Europe. Its insidiuos, creeping into our daily lives like dark invades our evenings. We fall prey to its quickness and convienience and soon enough forget the taste of real bread.

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Thats enough ramblings from me, enough of my gastronomy opinions and rants on modern non-ART. So, I will close with this lrayer to all, that tomorrow will find you healthy and happy, able to enjoy the bounty of what God places before us each day, not asking for anything other than direction and guidance so our footfall lands upon the path laid our for us each and every day, that we would wish more for another than for ourself, that we would truly love that nieghbour not just mluth the words. Gods house is built upon the solid rock of time and promise,  not upon the shifting sands of chance, fate nor luck.

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Blog40-up thru Pais Basque

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The roads were indeed wet as I left fond memories of George and Natalie further behind with each pedal stroke. The threatening clouds were just that, threatening, never amounting to anything but bluster. By evening those grey clouds broke and scattered for the open ocean further south, leaving in thier wake a magnificent sunset to end a long day on the cranks. I am now headed north up thru Pais Basque country. North, too yet another friends house.

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My route is along the smallest most remote “D”roads I can find. Abundant hardwoods are festooned in thier autumn splendor, vibrant shades and hues are dabbled like so much paint on an artists easel……God has his hand in the landscape on display. The countryside is rolling a little higher and steeper with each passing mile. One full day of brilliant sunshine is followed by a nasty day of rain and wind which kept me pinned in my tent for the entire day. Survived the day of rain without much damage to me, my tent or contents.

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Broke free of the mud and mire that was my bedding ground for away to long. Further south, and many short steep climbs, takes me along cathedral trail as I came to call it. As you rode along, it just seemed that each distant hill had a Cathedral sitting at it’s crest. A statement of a time now past in largely secular France. Each day comprised some 25-35 short and often very steep climbs. The further north by northwest I went, the longer and harder the hills became, down to the point that some I simply had to push my bike up. The grand vista which lay always over my left shoulder, was that of the snow mantled Pyrennes. The white caps of snow recede into the vibrant hues of hardwood trees which inturn gave ground to the verdant green pastureland. Grazing white sheep dot the green grass like giant cotton balls across the Pais Basque lanscape.

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Busy with pedalling, grunting and farting to claim yet another hilltop village, I was passed by a small truck with 2 road bikes in the back. We all waved and smiled and I rezumed my pedalling. Some few moments later I actually crested that hill, arriving in a small town square with a tiny church as its focal point. There on the side of the road was a fellow biker sort of cheering me on, I stopped in order to catch my breath and exchange cycling pleasantries. It turns out this fellow had met up with the two fellows in the truck mentioned earlier, they were bedecked in the latest racing spandex and team colors, ready to tear up the roads of rural France. They were sort of laughing scoffing at my road tractor…..eh, bike. Her all black paint, and dull colored appointments, bags hanging off any and every place you could hang something from. She is no beauty when sitting beside the carbon fibre works of art they road…….too many smiles and snide comments for to simply shut up. All 3 of these fellows were and still are younger than am I, so, I motioned for the very first fellow I met to come over with his bike……it took a little coaxing, but finally he rolled his bike on over. Holding it by the crossbar, I hoisted it over my shoulder one handed, nothing difficult, it only wieghs like 11 pounds. Then I motion for him to come around opposite of me and hold my bike…….slowly, tenatively he approaches the offside of my bike….holding the seat and handlebars…….I ask him if he “has” my bike because I will let go. With a broad smile he nods and claims his metallic prize. His smile oh so quickly fades into that of total shock, eyes like pie plates as both he and the bike fall strait over backwards…….perfectly pinning him to the ground with its wieght. Oh how I wanted to slap my leg laughing…………but no, not me,  I held my composure as I helped him out from under my steed. All three left with a little more respect for those who travel the long lonesome road of a world voyage………..soon as they left I tossed out all the bricks I had put in my bags…just kidding.

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Much of my ride or roads has coincided with the Compostella route. The via de Compostella has actually several routes and names. So let me explain if I can. You may even want to rent the movie called “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen….a good flick. This movie set in modern times uses the Compostella as the scripts backbone, and the people you meet in the movie

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added the human story to a biblical frame. Yes, the Compostella is a biblical pilgrimage story of one Saint James. But, like all good stories there are twists, turns, and yes even an occasional half truth. Once here, in Europe that is, you will find there are actually three walks by various Saints, it,s just that the pilgrimage of Saint James is the best known. Since I am now in Spain, I will add yet another bizarre twist to the whole Compostella story. The reason for the original walk was one of duty and a Godly calling by that of Saint James, walking from Rome to Santiago de Compostella on the sea coast of northern Spain. That pilgrimage journey has morphed over the years into many who walk for a Godly reason, but it may have to do with asking for a miraculous healing, or thanks for such an event…..but with an eye and heart towards God the creator. Slowly the secular crowd have also taken to walking the Compostella as well. Since the original Compostella route makes abundant use of abbeys and churches as places of refuge for weary travellers on thier personal pilgrimage…..it stands to reason that overtime the secular nonbeliever types would have thier voices heard as well. So, as I am told today while in Ondarrua Spain, located on the atlantic coast, there is a new route growing in popularity which takes in more scenery and hotels and far less hardship and churches. Trust a total disbeliver to screw up an intimate human spiritually guided story.

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Anyways to the point. Once again the day finds me rolling into the base of yet another hill in my path towards days end. Ahead of me is a walker……I have seen enough of them that I can pick them out from simple day hikers. He is an aged man ( oops, turns out he is same age as myself ) slightly stooped, walking stick in hand and a backpack…..the classic “compostellaian” as I call them. Rolling up beside him, he turns to greet me and our visit begins. I can see he wears the Compostella sea shell around his neck, and he carries a simple stone in his pocket, which he proudly shows me. The sea shell is an adornment visible on houses who have over the years supported the travelling pilgrims with both food and shelter, a marker to all who see it declaring your intenttions as a pilgrim. The stone on the other hand is carried as a symbol of the wieght of your personal infliction, and at the far end of your journey you toss your stone onto the mountain of stones carried by thousands of others who walked before you.

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This fellow was placed in my path by God not by accident. Please read on. Being from Spain, and being 65 when he began his walk, he wanted it to be a true or real pilgrimage likes that of James. He left Barcellona

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with what he could wear, a simple blanket to sleep, but not one penny in his pocket. He has never bought a meal, never bought a hotel room and never went without. Kindness of Christ and the saints who dwell among us has been his constant companion on this incredible pilgrimage……but in a very bizarre way it gets even better. Eventually our visit turns to myself and my own journey which is always fun to share. Quickly though, my mention of Mongolia and Russia ellicit a broad smile and excitement in his eyes, it was easy too see the chage in his composure. He begins to tell me about his nephew and a friend who left Barcellona 2 years ago as well, and how they are travelling around the world and rode thru Russia and Mongolia just this summer as well. It is astounding to me, just how small the world is and how interconnected our lives become if we just have the courage to get off the couch and begin living the life that God has planned for us. I ask Antonio, my trekking friend……”does your nephew have long hair that is very curly, and does his friend Carlos have thick black hair…..are they maybe 30 years old. “Yes, yes, thees is my nephew and Carlos, do you read they story?”. No I said, I am pretty sure I met them both in Russia. His face went totally blank, like someone just pulled his hard-drive out……..the look that followed was that of disbelief. Seeing that we had a bit of a mental disconnect, I get out my phone and scrolled back thru images……sure enough, I find the 2 guys Pine and I met and whom fit the description he gave. When I showed him the image, it was unbelievable for him that I would have an image of his nephew in my phone……..I thought he was going to faint or kiss me for joy. We both acknowledged God’s divine hand within moments and events like these, both of us knowing we are pilgrims on different journeys but with the same end goal. If you go back to Blog post 15, you will read my mention of both these fellows and thier own amazing 50,000km journey thus far.

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Dang but I am long winded at times, but just too many good stories and memories too not take a moment and share them with all of you. My itinerary has me rolling headlong into the village of Ustaritz at the heart of Pais Basque country. Where proudly the Basque lay claim to a region within both France and Spain….as, thier own. Just a provincial region south I was rolling thru Gascogne where it seemed cows and cereal grain farming ruled. But rolling out of that region into what is Basque country it is easy to see that sheep have amply replaced cattle, and grazing takes precedence over farming. The grass is still thick and vibrant green, yes, even this late in the year. The hills just get steeper by the minute, so tractor type farming would not work here. Within Ustaritz is another friend, Pierre Duinat, or the wild haired one as I call him. We both met during my saddletree making class, and a good friend he became. Knowing my route took me north, he made me an offer of a place to stay and a meal if I so chose. Pierre lives as a widower, a man preoccupied with interests and hobbies, and like many of us….TIME is his curse. The house is 3 story, huge and grand all in one breath. The ground floor is all hand cut stone of some 16″square, hardwood timbers make up the roof of each level, rock cut and stacked 3 stories tall and 3 feet thick at ground level. The upper two floors have 12″wide heavy oak flooring with hand forged “TEE” style nails holding the beautiful character laden boards in place. High 12 foot cielings, heavy hardwood doors and shutters at every turn. You wind your way vertically in the house on a 8 foot staircase. Each room repleat with a 6 foot wide fireplace, the dining room has an 8 foot wide fireplace. And it all sits in the middle of 20 unspoiled acres of assorted fruit and nut trees. Built in 16 something, it was the last place that Jean Lafeyette slept in his home country before setting sail for the Americas to aid us in our War of Independance.
Thankyou Pierre for a great visit and fine meals sitting in your garden.

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